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Supreme Court Denies Marijuana Suit From Colorado's Neighboring States

More than a year after Nebraska and Oklahoma sought to sue Colorado over the carry-over effects of that state's law making recreational marijuana legal, the U.S. Supreme Court has denied the two states' complaint.

The court did not explain its decision, with which Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas disagreed. Thomas wrote a five-page dissent in which Alito joined (a reminder: the court is currently at eight members).

Citing the Supreme Court's constitutional role in handling disputes between states, Thomas said that Nebraska and Oklahoma's claims of "significant harms to their sovereign interests" should have been allowed to proceed, and should not have been denied without explanation.

The two states began legal proceedings months after Colorado began allowing marijuana dispensaries to start selling pot for recreational use at the start of 2014.

As the Two-Way reported, "officials in Nebraska and Oklahoma say Colorado's pot law has become a destabilizing force in their states, where their legal systems are struggling to enforce the federal ban on marijuana. They believe Colorado isn't doing enough to keep pot from leaving the state."

The neighboring states had claimed their criminal justice systems were being put under stress because of Colorado's new law.

Reacting to today's news, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said he's disappointed. He also said the high court's denial doesn't mean that Colorado's "unconstitutional facilitation of marijuana industrialization is legal" — and Peterson added that he'll be looking at possible steps "toward vindicating the rule of law."

On the other side of the issue, Mason Tvert, the director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, called the case meritless.

"States have every right to regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana, just as Nebraska and Oklahoma have the right to maintain their failed prohibition policies," said Tvert, who's based in Denver — and who helped lead his state's marijuana voter initiative. "Colorado has done more to control marijuana than just about any other state in the nation."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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